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Fan’s Take: Who Should Bat Cleanup for the Pittsburgh Pirates?
The Pittsburgh Pirates' starting lineup features many young talented players that are still on the rise and could develop into very good offensive players. All of these players project to be hitters or base runners though. Even in the best case scenario the Pirates don't have power hitters. That begs the question, who should be the Pirates' cleanup hitter?
Before we get into which player should be the cleanup hitter for the Pirates let's first decide what is expected of a cleanup hitter. In my opinion the ideal leadoff hitter is somebody that has speed, can steal bases and disrupt the defense and pitching. The second batter is someone that can move runners to the next base. Preferably the second batter would move runners up by getting a base hit but with Clint Hurdle as the manager that probably means a lot of bunting also.
The third batter should be the best hitter on the team. The cleanup batter is typically a power hitter that can change the game with the swing of a bat while the fifth batter is a player that can get a high RBI total by benefiting from the top four batters being on base. Since the Pirates don't have a home run hitter I think the Pirates will have to settle for two batters similar to the fifth batter. The cleanup batter will simply have to be a batter than can accumulate some RBI.
The Pirates' starters to start the season will likely be Andrew McCutchen, Alex Presley and Jose Tabata in the outfield, a platoon of Garrett Jones and Casey McGehee at first base, Neil Walker at second base, Clint Barmes at shortstop, Pedro Alvarez at third base and Rod Barajas behind the plate.
The first decision is easy in my opinion. McCutchen should bat third. McCutchen is the best power hitter—which would suggest he bats fourth—but like I said earlier, I've always believed the best hitter should bat third and McCutchen is the best hitter. The other easy decision is making Tabata the leadoff hitter. Again, McCutchen is as fast as anyone on the team but he's batting third. Tabata is the other base stealer on the team so we'll put him at the top of the order.
The second batter is tough. Presley was on fire when he was called up during the season and ended up with a batting average close to .300. If Presley continues to make contact with the ball then he'll be a good second hitter. Starling Marte could also take that spot if he's called up at some point.
Tabata, Presley, and McCutchen are a pretty logical top of the order and the bottom of the order seems clear as well. The Pirates made some good acquisitions this offseason, but the additions of Barmes and Barajas are curious. Barajas should bat 7th and the Pirates can hope for some occasional power that might drive in some runners left over from the top six batters. Barmes is not much of an offensive threat, so he should be slotted in 8th with the pitcher batting ninth.
That just leaves Jones/McGehee, Walker and Alvarez for the middle of the order. Ever since he was drafted Alvarez was supposed to be the power hitter on this team. Last season was a rough season for Alvarez, though, and I don't think the Pirates need to put too much pressure on him to start the season. Let Alvarez bat sixth and work his way up to fourth once he starts playing well, if he starts playing well.
When comparing the last two options in power there isn't much to debate. Jones and McGehee have more power than Walker. Jones hit 21 home runs in back-to-back seasons before dipping down to 16 last season. In McGehee's one really good season he hit 24 home runs. They should bat cleanup, right?
Well, there's one problem. Should the cleanup spot in the order be trusted to two batters that will platoon because neither is good enough to start every night? Should the Pirates entrust their cleanup spot to two batters that collectively batted .232 last season? If that is the case then the Pirates should let Alvarez languish in the cleanup spot.
The only choice for the Pirates' cleanup hitter seems to be Walker. Walker doesn't have power and doesn't hit a lot of home runs. Walker did have a good amount of RBIs for a second basemen, though. Walker batted 296 during his first season and .273 last season. Hopefully Walker continues to hit about .280 or even better. If Walker can simply hit the ball in play consistently then it will give the speedy Pirates lineup ample opportunities to score. If at some point in the season Jones or McGehee plays well enough to take sole position of the first base job or if Alvarez finally breaks out, Walker can just drive in runs batting fifth.
If by some miracle Jones/McGehee and Alvarez both play well then the best spot for Walker might actually be batting second, bu,t for now, the Pirates need a more reliable bat in the middle of the lineup so they need Walker to bat cleanup.
Who do you think should bat cleanup for the Pittsburgh Pirates? Leave me a message or Tweet your answers using the hashtag #PiratesCleanup.
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All stats were found at MLB.com
The last several generations of Lee Andrew Henderson's family were Pittsburgh born and even though he was born in Alabama he has been a long time fan of the Pirates, Steelers and Panthers. Lee Andrew Henderson can be found on Twitter at @LeeAHenderson.
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